Audiobooks—Oh, how I love thee

I want to start this post of by saying I LOVE audiobooks. I love them so much I gave up a publishing contract with a good publisher over my audiobook rights. As some might know I work full time as a freelance illustrator and cover designer. Drawing can take up a lot of time throughout the day. Instead of listening to music, I listen to books. I average about 3 audiobooks a week. They help me get through my day and get through my “to be read list”. Audiobooks make up at least 90% of my day to day reading. The majority of them are middle-grade books.

Why am I such a lover of audiobooks? Check out this list below to find out. There are many benefits from reading an audiobook. These are just a few:

  • Storytelling out loud goes back to the beginning of time. It is how we all used to cute-15719“read” a story. The love of the spoken word grew into all sorts of other forms of entertainment: readings, theater, and movies. When we listen to an audiobook we are embracing that love that is fused in our very makeup.
  • Listening to books can actually help your reading levels. Listening to how words are pronounced and how sentences are spoken aloud can actually strengthen your reading. This is why parents are encouraged by doctors to read aloud to their children at least twenty minutes a day.
  • Most narrators have experience in the theater and they showcase that during their productions of audiobooks. Narrators diversify the books by giving different voices to each of the characters and making the senses more real and gripping. I remember my first time listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, read by Jim Dale. It was fantastic! I had read that book probably half a dozen times before listening to the audiobook. To be honest, I never enjoyed it as much as I did when Jim Dale read it to me. I really believe that it also promotes literacy to children and gets them excited to read on their
  • Audiobooks are readily available. Most libraries carry them, and with companies like iTunes and Audible, audiobooks are at our figure tips. This is particularly nice because lots of teachers encourage kids to listen to the audiobook as they follow along in the print version. This too helps advance reading levels.
  • Piggybacking on reading along with audiobook I’d like to share a little about Amazon’s Whispersync technology. You can purchase an eBook from Amazon and then get the audiobook (also at a discounted price of normally $1.99) and then you can listen to the book as you read on your kindle. It’s quite fascinating. Each word highlights as the narrator reads along. I think this is a marvelous tool for those that want to advance their reading skills, especially kids.

51JwCnlVzJL._SL500_AA300_PIaudible,BottomRight,13,73_AA300_Did you know that many of the Emblazon authors have audiobooks available? I just found this out myself. They have all been added to my “listening list”. The few that I have had the opportunity to let my ears devour have been sensational. They took me right into another world and kept me entertained up until the very end. Like all good books they left me with a linger of that world still on my mind.

I invite you to listen to an audiobook. If you never have, oh what a treat you are in for. If you have before keep doing it. If your first experience wasn’t so good. Try again. Most people want to tackle an audiobook by listening to something brain challenging like War and Peace. Not that it isn’t a great book, but it might not be your best audiobook “first”. Make your “first” be a middle-grade book…seriously. You will have fun. You will laugh. You will cry. You will become a fan of audiobooks for a lifetime.

List of audiobooks by Emblazoner authors:

 Some of my “recent” favs to give a listen:

Let me know how your audiobook experiences are going. I love to hear what others think of audiobooks. If you need more suggestions just let me know I have a wickedly long list of favorite audiobooks. My top favorite right now: The Dream Keeper Chronicles books 1 and 2 (I know, I know those are my books. But I still love them). Now go listen to a book!

Events To Inspire


IMG_20140620_162416Over the past couple of months, I had the pleasure of attending two writer events where authors and their teen readers were present. There were plenty of tweens at one of the events, which was exciting for an author like me. I absolutely love being amid this type of group because of the fun everyone has. Children and teens are naturally curious, many are quick to humor, and most know how to be “in the moment.”

Children’s writers—those writing for children up through young adults—are also some pretty cool kids. They easily tap into this same energy, bringing out that child/tween/teen inside themselves. This is how they can draw out characters rich in age-fitting scenarios or write about situations kids can relate to on a personal level. This is how they connect with their readers.

As an author-exhibitor at a handful of events over the past year, I learned that no matter how shy the kid (big or small), a fun table attracts them. Author swag—bookmarks, book-themed buttons, stickers, candy, etc.—appeals to even the most hesitant attendee and can generate interest. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations struck up with tweens and teens about fantasy books, mythology, or becoming a writer initiated by offering them cool “stuff”. Lots of kids signed up for a raffle my author-friend and I hosted at one event, many stuck our buttons all over their tote bags or lanyard ropes, and a few teens were having so much fun with the particular event’s theme, they came to our table wearing alien masks.

Fellow children’s authors are a ton of fun, too. Most coming to these types of events are eager to connect and share their experiences and/or engage in what I like to call “nerding out” over books they love, have written, or read; favorite characters; supernatural themes; what-if scenarios on well-known stories; favorite covers, etc.  This sort of writer-to-writer “play” is inspiring. And playing is fun! Kids know that, and big kids benefit from time spent where they can nurture this kid-energy and energize their creative juices.

And when authors (ahem . . . me included) can be seen wearing antennae, glow-in-the-dark jewelry, or even alien masks alongside the kids, you can almost hear the ticking of keys as new stories begin to spark from enthused imaginations.

head shot image extra crop colorChristina Mercer is an award-winning author of fiction for children and young adults. Honored titles include Tween Fantasy ARROW OF THE MIST and its sequel ARMS OF ANU, and YA Fantasy/Romance HONEY QUEEN. Christina enjoys life in the foothills of Northern California with her husband and sons, a pack of large dogs, and about 100,000 honeybees. For more about her and her writing, visit


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Finding Great Summer Reads

The purpose of Emblazon is to celebrate tween literature. In fact, to encourage kids to make reading part of their summer activities, we’re sponsoring a summer reading contest. (There’s still plenty of time to enter!) But choosing that next book can sometimes be challenging. Maybe you’re overwhelmed by so many titles. Or perhaps you’re tired of the same small selection at your local library. Today I’ll share some resources for locating exceptional titles to dive into over the summer months.

Every year, many awards are given out for excellence in children’s literature. Here are some of the most prestigious:

John Newbery Medal

national book award medal 2The granddaddy of them all is the Newbery Medal. Who hasn’t heard of this one? Books that win this coveted prize are considered the best contribution to American children’s literature in the previous calendar year. Many local libraries have online lists of Newbery winners connected to their catalog. I frequent ours often. But here’s a database on the Newbery website with all past winners, including honor books. How many have you read? I’m at 38, not counting honor books.

Michael Printz Award

PrintzThe Michael Printz Award was started in 2000. According to the official website, it is “an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. It is named for a Topeka, Kansas school librarian who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association.  The award is sponsored by Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association.” Here’s a list of past winners and honorable mentions.

National Book Award

national book award This award is administered each year by the National Book Foundation which, according to their website, seeks to “celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.” Here’s a handy linked cover image list of past winners dating back to the 1950’s.

Coretta Scott King Award

coretta-king-seal-229528_185x185This is the granddaddy of African American teen literature. “The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values. The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.” This list includes all past recipients.

Golden Kite Awards

golden kiteThis prize is awarded by SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). It is “given annually to recognize excellence in children’s literatures in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Picture Book Text, and Picture Book Illustration.” I couldn’t find a comprehensive list on the official webpage. Thank goodness for Wikipedia.

Notable Children’s Books


Many books are included in this distinguished list each year, as chosen by the American Library Association. “According to the Notables Criteria, ‘notable’ is defined as: Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children’s books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways.” You can view all past lists here.

Cybils Award

cybilsThis last award happens to be my favorite. It’s administered by book bloggers—regular people who happen to be avid readers. Maybe I like it so much because one of my books was actually nominated out of the blue last year by one of these regular readers. (It’s permafree on Amazon.) I didn’t win, but I was thrilled to be counted among some of my favorite authors. Here’s a list of past winners.

Of course, just because a book won an award doesn’t mean you’ll like it. And there are thousands of titles that never receive the accolades they deserve. So, keep your eyes peeled. If you find any exceptional titles, please…LET ME KNOW! Drop me a note on Facebook. Really. I’m always on the lookout for my next great read.

Oh yeah…one final way to locate great titles is to search the ones written by our Emblazon authors. :) Even better, check out our selection of freebies and award winners.

Happy summer reading!!



Michelle Isenhoff is the author of nine children’s novels. She has a background in elementary education and blogs about children’s literature and self publishing at

Where’s Mom and Dad?

IMG_5779Once upon a time, we were kids.  We hated homework and lima beans, and we loved cartoons and fart jokes. Energy abounded, and so did laughter, grass stains and candy wrappers.  Soap and finished chores were much harder to find.  Our parents were background furniture unless they served as vending machines who dispensed bandaids, snacks or new shoes.  We thought they were nuts most of the time, except when they were being boring or mean.

And then we grew up and became parents ourselves.  Some of us decided to write for the very children we used to be.  We create stories full of imagination and adventure, mystery and humor.  We’re usually pretty good at including the things we had and did in our youth, but we often forget–as we did then–the parents.

So many young heroes today seem to be busy saving the world without adult supervision, and while I understand that such stories feed the independent spirit of children, it doesn’t do much to foster the most important relationships they’ll ever have: those within their family.

I say this, and I am guilty of it myself.  There go my characters, wishing they had guidance, wondering in whom to trust, and needing that protective hug that says, “It’s going to be okay.  I’m here for you.”

(This is where I reveal how incredibly outdated I am.)  We don’t have cable TV.  Or satellite.  Or Netflix.  I make my kids watch DVDs of The Andy Griffith Show, The Brady Bunch and other shows of that ilk.  Guess what?  They love them!  When Opie goes to Pa, or Marsha and Greg seek counsel from Mom and Dad, it all makes sense.  The world is righted.

Nowadays, much of tween programming has either absentee parents or buffoons who are the punchline of all disrespectful jokes, but our books don’t have to follow suit.  That doesn’t mean that our young characters can’t reflect true-to-life attitudes about adults.  I recently read a hilarious passage in a middle grade book that illustrated a child’s disdain for the tasteless diet of her health freak parents.  I later found out the author is a health freak herself and had made fun of herself in a totally engaging way without taking parents out of the picture or making them lose all credibility.

All kinds of studies show that kids who read fiction grow up to be more empathetic, creative, and adept at problem-solving.  After all, they’ve watched it all happen in their minds.  What if they also grew up to be more respectful and loving to their parents, more inclined to value family, and more likely to stand up for (instead of mock) their siblings?

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We can do that.  It’s been done before.  Harper Lee gave us Atticus Finch, and Laura Ingalls Wilder gave us Pa and Ma.  We can fill the shelves with parental role models that even kids will think are cool.


Emblazon headshotLia London has written three MG/YA books and is currently working on the sequel to The Gypsy Pearl, a tween series that will definitely conclude with a reunited family!  Learn more about her and her writing at

Never Underestimate Young Readers

We often hear how students today don’t know literature or history, or that they lag behind kids in other countries in the most crucial areas of math, science, and engineering. Culture is often blamed. Movies and TV shows promote violence and drug culture and advertising commercializes and sexualizes the youth. Video games and movies often glamorize unsavory heroes. Kids today live in a celebrity culture, where intellect isn’t appreciated and everything is dumbed down, numbing young minds instead of expanding them. Some schools barely keep kids in the classroom. Our society is not encouraging children to utilize the full potential they were born with.


We must constantly strive to reach these kids and give them books they’ll enjoy while stretching their minds and imaginations. As readers and writers for young people, the Emblazoners know tweens are readers and fully capable of understanding rich and complex stories that thrill and teach and inspire. We know what books we read and enjoyed in our youth and we want to reach today’s kids before they give up on learning.

Lynn Kelley and I, writing as BBH McChiller, have decided that when we write our Monster Moon series of books for 7- to 12 year-olds, where we create a fictional world full of fictional characters with fictional problems, that we will always drop in a dabbling of real history or geography, real science, real literature, actual occupations, folklore, and mythology, anything that adds truth and depth to the story.

This exposes kids to the real world in a subtle and unobtrusive way. As a simple example, our pirate rat character often bemoans the plight of his species Rattus rattus, and while kids sympathize with him they are learning the scientific nomenclature for the rat species. Similarly, we have Macbeth being quoted at a Monster Ball. Kids are smart and capable, so why not give them an awareness of history and science and literature in addition to a fun read.

Last month I had the opportunity to be a Grand Award Judge at Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles, and I saw firsthand the intelligence and amazing abilities of young people, but also, the worldwide competition with whom they’ll have to compete.

Intel’s ISEF is the world’s largest science and engineering fair where millions of dollars are awarded to students, mainly high schoolers, ranging in age from 13 to 18. Over seven and a half million students from all over the world began on this journey by competing in local, regional, school, state or sponsored fairs, and the top winners/finalists were invited to compete at ISEF for the largest awards given to young people.

The 1,700 finalists came from 70 countries and were the best of the best. Their projects would compare with any college or graduate level research endeavor. Several top category winners were just 13 to 15 years old. The Grand Award winner was a 15-year-old boy from Boston, MA who worked on his project at home combining science, math, and computer learning. He wrote a computer learning program teaching the computer to calculate the relative deleterious effects of various cancer cell gene mutations, all in his spare time. These students certainly gave me hope for the future of the world.

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This year’s top winners were from Malaysia, Germany and United States.
(Photo – Courtesy of ISEF)

These outstanding kids got their interest in science, nature, mathematics, computers, etc. from somewhere. They had already attained this interest and drive before they went to high school. Maybe it was from reading. Interestingly, I noticed that many of the competitors were reading fictional books in their spare minutes. Or, maybe they got their interests from museums or travels. Somewhere they developed an ability to think about the world around them, to question how things work, to see problems and imagine solutions.

We work hard to write books that kids will enjoy and maybe we’ll inspire some readers to become writers or poets. Maybe we’ll write something that while fun to read, also inspires future historians, archeologists, engineers, mathematicians, cancer researchers, physicians, veterinarians, astronauts, and inventors.

Within the context of our novels, we can certainly encourage a zest for learning and for understanding the world around us. It’s easy to tuck interesting nuggets into a story, details that readers will enjoy and remember. Maybe we’ll even trigger that spark of curiosity, and they’ll want to learn more about some factoid we’ve woven into the tale. Maybe they’ll even want to read a nonfiction book on the subject. We can give readers an idea how they can solve a problem or change the world. Books can do that. We should challenge young readers’ minds. They can handle it.

Do you write historical or scientific facts into your stories beyond what the setting requires? Do you think it’s hard to do if it doesn’t directly pertain to the story?


Kathryn Sant

Kathryn Sant is a retired obstetrician who has witnessed the births of thousands of future readers. She has published a middle-grade novel, Desert Chase (Scholastic), and under the pseudonym BBH McChiller she is a co-author of the fun, spooky Monster Moon mystery series. Curse at Zala Manor is the first book in the series, Secret of Haunted Bog is the second title, and the upcoming Legend of Monster Island will be the third. She is currently working on two middle-grade boys’ adventure novels and the next Monster Moon book.

Her interest in adventure, research, and genealogy has led to a love of world travel, exotic adventures, and museums of all kinds. But she also enjoys quiet evenings reading with her dogs at her side.

Book Review: House of Secrets by Ned Vizzini and Chris Columbus

MMGM is a weekly feature hosted each Monday on Shannon Messenger’s blog. Some of our authors participate on their individuals blogs. On occasion we’ll post one here.


I read the book “House of Secrets” by Ned Vizzini and Chris Columbus, director of the first and second Harry Potter films. With that as a resume for entertainment value with a description that sounded appealing, I had high hopes for this book.

The online description of the book reads, “Siblings Brendan, Eleanor, and Cordelia Walker once had everything they could ever want. But everything changed when Dr. Walker lost his job. Now the family must relocate to an old Victorian house, formerly the home of occult novelist Denver Kristoff—a house that simultaneously feels creepy and too good to be true. By the time the Walkers realize that one of their neighbors has sinister plans for them, they’re banished to a primeval forest way off the grid. Bloodthirsty medieval warriors patrol the woods around them, supernatural pirates roam the neighboring seas, and a power-hungry queen rules the land. To survive, the siblings will have to be braver than they ever thought possible—and to fight against their darkest impulses. The key may lie in their own connection to the secret Kristoff legacy. But as they unravel that legacy, they’ll discover that it’s not just their family that’s in danger . . . it’s the entire world.”

What I thought: This book had lots and lots and lots and lots of action and adventure to keep the reader’s interest. If you’re a middle grader, the target audience, the action will keep you engrossed without a doubt and you might even learn a bit about WWII, mythical creatures and more. A word of warning, some parts get a bit gory.

That said, the plot line is not clear and it feels like the book is crammed with action for action’s sake, not for building to a climax with a satisfying resolution after one’s investement of time and energy. Perhaps this is because some parts seemed overly repetitive. One example, the bad guys kept reappearing. I remember thinking, “Kill ‘em already!” This continual reappearance of the villians made the book overly long. The story could have been concluded as effectively in probably 3-4 fewer chapters.

As an author, I seek to create characters the reader can relate to. This in turn has us care deeply about how the conflict resolves. Unfortunately, the characters of the Walker children, their parents and the storybook folks lacked depth and it felt as though the main characters did not develop through their ordeal. I hate to say it but I was left not caring enough about the Walkers to read the following two books in the series.

The end was also disappointing as the situation resolves overly quickly making everyone suddenly live happily ever after. It reminded me of the joke about playing a country song backwards – the characters got their parents back, their house back in one piece and more, all within the last chapter.

This is Chris Columbus’ first middle grade novel so I’ll cut him some slack, and while it has action and adventure galore, it lacks in plot and character development. That said, if you are looking for a mindless, action-packed diversion, this is the book for you, for it dispenses that in abundance. Overall, I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.


Linda1L. R. W. Lee is the author of the Andy Smithson MG/YA coming of age fantasy adventure series. A planned 7-book series, the following are currently available:
Blast of the Dragon’s Fury, Book One
Venom of the Serpent’s Cunning, Book Two.
Book Three, Disgrace of the Unicorn’s Honor is coming Fall 2014

She is a wife, mom and reader of the same kinds of books she writes. From age 8 she had a passion to write books that not only entertain, but also teach uncommon life principles. Learn more about her books, read sample chapters, watch trailers, see reviews and much more!
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Ten Ways To Get Kids To Write

by Susan Kaye Quinn

Getting my kids to write was slightly less painful than delivering them into the world, but a lot more frustrating. Because it goes on for years and years and years …

When I tell people that my son Dark Omen wrote his first novel at 12, and now at 15 is working on finishing the trilogy, they give me this knowing look, like, Well, of course! What did you expect? You’re a writer!

If they only knew.

None of my boys (ages 11, 13, 15) enjoyed writing when they were younger (in the case of 13 year old Worm Burner, we’re still stuck in the nooooooo stage of the writing experience). But I’m a patient mom (er, sometimes), and in the spirit of my Twelve Tips for Reluctant Readers post, I’ve pulled together Ten Ways to Get Kids to Write:

When the boys were little, we had a mini-easel that was chalk on one side and marker on the other. It spread chalk dust like crazy and we were always having to clean it, but having writing materials easily available (Way #1) meant we could stop and draw letters or cats (lots of cats) at any time. Later, when they were in school, there was lots of writing time during the year, but during breaks and summer, I stapled together pages of writing paper with a construction paper “cover.” This “book” was theirs to decorate, but they had to write a sentence (or paragraph or page, depending on the age) in it every morning, setting a regular time for writing (Way #2). Sometimes I gave writing themes (Way #3), like Christmas lights or going to the pool, but mostly I let them write whatever they wanted (Way #4), even if it was only “I hate writing.” (They thought this was the height of funny.)

When they were older and could write longer passages, I enlisted the help of writing workbooks (Way #5) - get the good ones, they’re worth it – with worksheets on grammar as well as narrative writing. To mix it up a little, I also gave them assignments (Way #6): write a letter (from a list of our relatives), write a poem, write a song, write a recipe. Here it helped to have a variety of writing supplies (Way #7), from index cards to fancy stationary. The most inspiring writing materials were consistently any notebook or writing material of an odd shape or texture or origin (Way #8), whether tiny spiral bound notebooks or giant sized, cardboard-latched binders. My boys even spent one hilarious night writing secret notes on the backs of fortune cookie slips.

As long as they were writing, I was happy.

Note: most of the time I was not happy because they were not writing. I tried to give them a journal (Way #9) - not a diary - but that was met with scorn. My final Way is not really a technique, but an attitude: cultivate patience and don’t give up (Way #10). Kids all develop at their own rates and it may take time (a lot of time, years worth of time) before they reach the milestones you want. But just like reading, writing is an essential skill that will wither if not actively encouraged.

Now, Dark Omen (15) and I often steal away for lunches to discuss story arcs or how many characters he’s going to kill in his latest book. He’s already planning how we can use our vacation to critique each other’s novels (since he’s also one of my best beta readers). Meanwhile, Mighty Mite (11) has an illustrated squirrel story going that has more action and peril than you might expect, and I hope to see more chapters from him soon, maybe during our driving vacation this summer. Worm Burner (13) is perfecting his sullen teenager act, and steadfastly refusing to write anything that doesn’t involve C++ or Java. Perhaps I’ll convince him to write a users manual… or maybe some amusing comments for his code.

One thing I’ve realized along the way away is that while writing is an essential skill, creativity can take many forms. If they’re playing music, drawing, engaging in performing arts like acting or singing or dancing… all of these feed the creative engine in their brains. I’ve also realized that patience is the key to almost everything – the steady presence of stories and writing in their lives has an impact, even if they’re not novelists like Mom. And if they are, that’s just a bonus on top.

Keep at it, keep encouraging, and you’ll be surprised what your kids will come up with.

May the Odds be Always in Your Favor.*

*Getting kids to write isn’t quite as brutal as the Hunger Games, but somehow the analogy seems apt.

What Ways have worked for you?


Susan Kaye Quinn 300 pix

Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Trilogy, which is young adult science fiction. She writes speculative fiction for all ages, but her boys’ favorite is her middle grade fantasy, Faery Swap. She always has more books in the works. You can find out what she’s up to by subscribing to her newsletter (hint: new subscribers get a free short story!) or by stopping by her blog (

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Warrior faery princes can be very stubborn.
Especially when they possess your body.
Fourteen-year-old Finn is tricked into swapping places with a warrior faery prince and has to find his way back home before the dimensional window between their worlds slams shut.


Teen Slang And Writing: Don’t Date Yourself, Dawg

Yo, want to mark where you fall on the generation timeline? Address folks with “Yo.” Or ask your teenager, “Did you hook-up with your friends today?” (This innocent question gets quite a reaction around here, let me tell you!) Slang evolves. What means one thing in one generation can mean something completely different in another. An insult in your generation could be a compliment in the next, or a sick slang expression could be like speaking Hungarian.


Tips for using slang in teen novels:

1. Use slang sparingly. Eavesdrop on a conversation between teenagers (for research purposes, of course). How often do they use slang? Not often, I’d venture.

When writing, toss in a slang word, here and there, for authenticity and color. Take care not to overdo it, or risk obliterating your characters. Dialogue heavily laden with slang can come across forced and unnatural. Slang choices should enrich your characters, not make them laughable. Be wise; be conservative.

2. Know your slang. We’re doing “research” again. What slang words do you hear teens using in conversation? Ask them what unfamiliar terms means, or jot expressions down and search their meaning on:

Urban Dictionary:


The Online Slang Dictionary:

But beware! Don’t assume a slang word or phrase is current because it appears on these websites. When in doubt, ask an expert: members of your target audience. If you receive a blank stare or an “Ewwwwww,” best to avoid using that expression.

You can consult teachers or other professionals who interact with teenagers, as well. Social networks are also a great source. Read through conversation threads on your teenage Facebook friends’ posts and take notes on language usage.

3. Stick with timeless and universal expressions. You can’t go wrong with “awesome” or “cool,” in my humble opinion. At least, they don’t make my teens wince, and they’re widely known, unlike other expressions I’ve used. I once wrote that I was “pissed” about something on Facebook. A British friend told me he did a double take when he saw my comment coming through his feed. Apparently, pissed means drunk as a skunk in England.

Don’t date your book, or yourself. Educate yourself on current teen slang, use it sparingly and wisely in your writing, and opt for a timeless classic over trendy. And when you spot a sign in Old Navy that says flip-flops are on sale, don’t shout across the store to your teenage daughters, “Girls! Thongs are on sale!” Yeah, that went over well.


Elise-2.Stokes.crop5x7.0045Elise Stokes lives with her husband and four children. She was an elementary school teacher before becoming a full-time mom. With a daughter in middle school and two in high school, Elise’s understanding of the challenges facing girls in that age range inspired her to create a series that will motivate young teens to value individualism, courage, integrity, and intelligence.

The stories in the Cassidy Jones Adventures series are fun and relatable, and a bit edgy without taking the reader uncomfortably out of bounds.


Rites of Passage


Photo courtesy of

Sam’s throat clenched as he plucked the slimy creature from the plastic cup held before him. Dangling in the air from his fingers, the worm twisted and curled, searching for the moist soil it had so recently inhabited.

“You gotta do it,” Billy said with a smile of encouragement.

“Yeah,” Tanner added. “We all did. Now it’s your turn.”

Sam nodded, looking at his five friends and swallowed the lump that had formed at the back of his mouth. “I know. Just gimme a sec.” He grimaced, then lifted the squirming little beast higher and parted his lips.

“Go! Go! Go!” the other boys chanted.

A piece of dirt landed on Sam’s tongue, making him flinch. Steeling himself, he opened his mouth wider and closed his eyes. Here goes nothing, he thought and released the wiggling worm from his fingers…

— — —

Scenes like this one happen almost every day during the summer in America and probably elsewhere in the world. Growing up is a long series of rites of passage.

Hold on, you say. A rite of passage is something grandiose. Like tribal or ceremonial.

Often they are, yes. We are in the season of graduations, which is what got me thinking about this subject in the first place. My younger daughter graduated high school this past weekend. (Whew! We made it!) But rites of passage aren’t always accompanied by pomp and circumstance.

A rite of passage is considered to have three phases: separation, transition, and reincorporation. From Wikipedia:

“The first phase (of separation) comprises symbolic behavior signifying the detachment of the individual or group … from an earlier fixed point in the social structure.”[4] There is often a detachment or “cutting away” from the former self in this phase, which is signified in symbolic actions and rituals. For example, the cutting of the hair for a person who has just joined the army. He or she is “cutting away” the former self: the civilian.

The transition (liminal) phase is the period between states, during which one has left one place or state but has not yet entered or joined the next. “The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae (“threshold people”) are necessarily ambiguous.”[5]

In the third phase (reaggregation or reincorporation) the passage is consummated [by] the ritual subject.”[6] Having completed the rite and assumed their “new” identity, one re-enters society with one’s new status.

As a writer, it’s important to understand these phases — especially when writing for young people — as they can guide you in the structure of your story. In the scene above, we can imagine Sam and his group of friends have been together for some time and want to form a stronger, more meaningful relationship with one another. Maybe they create their own “club” — no girls allowed, of course! — and decide on the initiation process of swallowing a worm as a symbol of brotherhood and commitment. The boys aren’t thinking in these terms, but they are the framework from which the actions are derived. The boys separate themselves from their peers by forming this club, and Sam, even though the boys are all his friends, is separated from them because he hasn’t yet performed the rite.

The scene itself describes phase two, which is the process of the transition. Sam works his way from being outside the club, to becoming a member. After he successfully completes the task, he can then rejoin his friends and the bond between all of them is stronger as a result.

What are some other aspects of growing up that could be considered “rites of passage”? Things like getting your driver’s license, to me, certainly qualify, but even events such as losing your first tooth, or riding a bicycle, or going to your first dance in middle school all have characteristics which identify them as rites of passage. Can you think of more examples?

Middle grade literature inevitably describes elements of growth with its characters. In writing these stories, think back to times in your life when you went through a rite of passage. Remember your uncertainty and apprehension during phases one and two, and then recall your sense of satisfaction and belonging encompassed within phase three. If you can incorporate these feelings in your narrative, I think you’ll go a long way toward crafting meaningful and identifiable characters for your readers.

— — —

… Sam swallowed as quickly as he could. He felt the worm slide all the way down, sending shivers through his body. Sam clamped his mouth shut as his stomach announced the new arrival with a gurgle. No way did he want to have the thing make the return trip!

“Woohoo!” the boys cheered. Billy leaned in and slapped Sam playfully on the back. “Nice!” his friend said.

“Hey,” Tanner said with a sly smile. “My sister’s having a sleepover tonight. Let’s go catch some frogs and give them a good scare!”

In a circle, the boys grinned and eyed each other. “Yeah,” Billy said. “Let’s do it.”

Tanner turned and ran for the pond on the other side of the park where they played. “Last one there’s a rotten egg!” he shouted over his shoulder.

Sam and the others sprinted after him. Man! Sam thought with the wind whipping his hair. This is going to be an awesome summer!

— — —

TuckerPenny1010smAlan Tucker, author of The Mother-Earth Series (A Measure of DisorderA Cure for Chaos, and Mother’s Heart), as well as the older teen science fiction series, Tales of Uncertainty (Knot in Time, and the newly released Abandon Hope), is a dad, a graphic designer, and a soccer coach. Mostly in that order. He’s had a lifelong adoration of books, beginning with Encyclopedia Brown, progressing through Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx, and continuing on with the likes of Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine and Naomi Novik, to name a few.

He has never swallowed a worm or used a frog to scare anyone.


Morphing: In books and real life

animorphsMorphing characters (not to be confused with morphling which I learned is a powerful painkiller) seems so easy to do. A character begins as one person and turns into someone or something else. There is a popular MG series based on this concept called Animorphs.

In real life, however, morphing is not so simple. I have two children that are morphing into something new at this graduation time.

Sixth grade graduation

Sixth grade graduation

My sixth grader will be entering junior high next year. It always amazes me how much change happens in a tween’s life as they move from elementary school to junior high. Some of the changes are great. Others not so much.

Second of all, my oldest is graduating from high school and moving onto college. It’s a big change that is laden with many bittersweet emotions–excitement, regret, hope, worry, etc. She’s going to be moving out on her own, which is going to be so awesome for her, but she is so much fun and responsible that I am really going to miss her.

Senior Grad announcement.

Senior Grad announcement


In writing, when we morph a character into something else, the idea is that the transition needs to be seamless. Sometimes the morphing takes a while, like a person slowly becomes someone else over time. An example of this is in the classic book, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Other times, the character morphs abruptly like going from a teenage boy into a werewolf. I’m sure you all know a book or two where this happens. If not, ask yourself where you’ve been for the last ten years. :)

Regardless, to make a seamless transition there needs to be preparation, build up, and a clear explanation of how it happens. If not, it doesn’t sit well with your reader.

My husband and I were listening to an audio book once when, at the very end of the story, the author had written herself into a corner. So what did she do? The main character all of a sudden realized she had ESP and talked to the mind of another character to get out of the climatic problem.


Just as I have tried to prepare my real children, build them up, and explain (as best I could) what the new stage of their lives will bring, we can do the same with our characters, only we have a lot more control (which, let’s be honest, is really nice sometimes.)